Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Men Go Crazy in Congregations

I decided Saturday morning, in a private celebration of what I hoped was the end of the winter weather to walk to Down City and the NCDC building at 77 Main Street to attend a Team Norwich meeting that had been cancelled the afternoon before. I didn't know that starting out but it wasn't the only thing I learned along the way.

I set out from where we live on Lincoln Avenue first to buy a newspaper (the other New London daily; the one that hasn't recently changed its name (my version of the name of the one that has includes a seven letter gerund between "The" and "Bulletin"), walking past the house that's been completely and beautifully rehabbed but still sits empty, and not alone in that predicament.

Then where Lincoln intersects with Oneco is yet another empty house, this one with plywood covering the ground floor windows. My family and I knew one of the families who lived there, years ago who have since passed away. They died and then their house died-I don't remember that happening in the neighborhood in which I grew up but now my city and state are on life support and lots of us think pinning the blame on the donkey (or elephant) is part of finding the solution

Walking up Oneco to where it intersects with Washington at Chelsea Parade, I studied the damages on the rock wall on the far side. The debris from the vehicle that hit the wall is still scattered on the sidewalk and the provisional repair to the wall looks like it will probably stay that way for years or until that part of the wall collapses. The walk/don't walk light on that side doesn't work and, as I found out on my way back home, the pedestrian activation button for the signal is broken as well.

Almost two years ago, as part of a Saturday outreach, some working to elect a sitting alderman as Mayor (not the current Mayor, a different alderman (just how different we were to find out on Election Night when he lost)) cleaned a Norwich Gateway, in this case from just above Sweeney Bridge to Howard Brown Park, filling scores of large trash bags and clearing all manner of detritus. It was difficult to see any trace of that effort in the hard light of Saturday morning.

Walking down Washington towards the harbor, I passed the house across from the synagogue where on a Saturday morning shortly before Thanksgiving, walking to a different meeting at the fire house, I watched the family who lived there, having placed in their van whatever items would fit, to include a very small child with big eyes and a shy smile who was working overtime with both of them, slide the door closed and pull away.

The house has been empty since that day and I sometimes wonder had the parents known how many people were working very hard to turn Norwich around if they might have chosen to stay. Another path left unexplored and more refugees forced to vote with their feet. Did I mention that when I got to the NCDC building there was a sign on the door telling me that the meeting had been cancelled? I'm wondering if there was a meeting for illiterates and alliterates. Another mystery without a clue.

The most disquieting thing about my walk has been that I've passed no one on the sidewalk at all. There's a few cars, heading through downtown on their way to other places but there's no one looking for anything or anyone anywhere I am in Norwich. If I'm all the feet on the street at nine on a Saturday morning, unless I'm reincarnated as a millipede, we have a long way to go before downtown is a destination.

Heading up Broadway where it intersects with Main Street, I notice the corner restaurant boasts Wi-Fi which, for Norwich, is literally a sign of the times and the road ahead. When choosing a place to enjoy a sandwich, beverage and some conversation, Wi-Fi will always carry the day. Hopefully the visionary entrepreneur is seeing his reward in this life as making a business go around here is hard work in good times and these, as we know, aren't.

Walking towards City Hall, I pass the mural, completed in 1978, on the back of the old Otis Library-there's still a vitality and vibrancy that three plus decades of grit and a word that rhymes with grit can't obliterate.

The mural enlivens the parking lot abutting the Donald Oat Theater which, if news accounts are to be believed, could use a double dose of vitality as well as a cash infusion. Maybe just me, but when some of us talk about public support and sacrifice, I reach for my wallet because I've learned 'what's mine is mine but what's yours is negotiable' makes me angry beyond words.

Continuing up Union Street, where Crossways and Union meet, there's a murder of crows waging a polite war with a scurry of squirrels for edible items revealed by the retreat of the melting snow cap. Both sides jockey for control of the Memorial to the 26th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, oblivious to the Battle of Port Hudson or the regiment's sacrifice to which the memorial bears witness.

Union and Broadway become one near St. Patrick's. I always smile as I walk past Monsignor King Park, facing the cathedral, because I know I'm less than eight minutes from my house and because I'm making good on a vow to absent friends from long ago to make it to Broadway. I'm pretty sure we'd all agree this isn't what I meant (nor is this, for that matter), but the temperatures are quite nice for the first Saturday of March and the snow is on the run.

I make a left at the Chelsea Parade South and Broadway and watch a man and one of the largest German Shepherd dogs I have ever seen playing fetch with what looks to be a tree branch rather than a stick at Chelsea Parade. Passing coffee cups and an empty drink container discarded by the occupants of cars that park on Lincoln Avenue on days when a nearby Blue Ribbon School of Excellence is in session, I marvel at how these items, when empty, are too heavy to hold on to which must be how they end up in my street.

I was back home shortly before half-past ten-and while I didn't attend the meeting, I learned a lot about the city I've called home for nearly two decades. Fine words will not cover bare wood like a coat of paint and there are a lot of targets of opportunity around here. Good intentions will not replace hard work. Meaning well and doing well are two very different things and talking about making changes is far easier than being part of the change. It all starts with each of us, alone and together.
-bill kenny

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